2 in 5 Alaska students are proficient in English language arts, fewer in math

Results of the Performance Evaluation for Alaska’s Schools (PEAKS) assessment, administered in spring 2019, were released Sep. 5, 2019. (Data from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development; Graphic by Zoe Grueskin/KTOO)

Over 76,000 Alaska students took statewide math and English tests this spring.

The state Department of Education and Early Development shared the results last week. There’s plenty of room for improvement.

Alaska students in grades three through nine took the tests this spring. Just 39.2% — fewer than 2 in 5 — earned at least a proficient score in English Language Arts. That number is even lower for math, at 35.72%.

What proficient means varies by grade level. To earn that score on the math test, a student in fifth grade must multiply and divide multi-digit numbers, among other things. For the English test, a fifth-grader needs a solid grasp on figurative language.

This is the third year the state has used this test, called the Performance Evaluation for Alaska’s Schools, or PEAKS.

Assessments Administrator Isaac Paulson said the scores aren’t much of a change from previous years. They’re down slightly from last year, but up slightly from the year before that.

“About the same over all,” Paulson said, adding that there’s not enough data yet to talk about long-term trends.

The state also shared the results of the Alaska Science Assessments, which tests students in grades four, eight and 10. Statewide, 44.65% of tested students scored at least proficient.

The state has already published every school district’s scores online. School districts can use the results to evaluate programs and inform funding decisions.

Students will receive their individual scores no later than Sept. 25, but the state is looking at the big picture. The scores help the state determine which schools need the most support, in compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Erin Hardin, special assistant to the education commissioner, said a major goal for the state is closing achievement gaps between different groups of students.

“When you look at, say, our economically disadvantaged students, our English learners, our students with disabilities — their results compared to all students — there are large gaps in achievement,” said Hardin.

The state is in the process of determining which Alaska schools need the most support.

In addition to assessment results, the state considers other factors including graduation rate and English language proficiency.

School districts will learn next week how the state has designated each school and make it public at the end of the month.

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